Intels Banias Chip: Substance and Style?

With its forthcoming Banias chip, Intel is clearly aiming at the transmeta market.

The most interesting part of Intels recent mobile day in San Francisco had nothing to do with processing power and performance and everything to do with the fact that Intel shared the stage in part with Ideo, a design company.

My first thought was that Intel finally has realized that PCs in their current stage are monolithic beasts. While its true I want the biggest and most powerful beast around (a dual-processor AMD system heats my home), its also true that Im equally interested in smallness (I carry around a Toshiba E740).

Somewhere between the beast and the Palm and Pocket PC sits the notebook computer, the fastest-growing segment of the market, according to IDC and Intel. Unfortunately, most notebooks dont use mobile chip sets, and their batteries last only 2 hours under normal usage. Also, they look less like their category label would imply and more like blocks. There are exceptions: The Sony Vaio has some charisma, and Toshibas Portégé line is sleek and light. But notebook design is a difficult task.

The first Tablet PCs will be shipping in early November. However, Tablet PCs still follow most of the same design principles as notebooks. The only difference is that some have pen input screens, and some are convertible. Its clear that traditional processor architectures were indeed an obstacle to great small designs. The designers had to build around fans, heat exchangers and the size of the chips. Hence, Transmetas raison dêtre.

With its forthcoming Banias chip, Intel is clearly aiming at the Transmeta market. Banias isnt due until the first quarter of next year, and Intel will detail a more complete road map at its developer conference next week. But the major initiative in Banias is mobility, specifically around extended battery life and connectivity. Banias will also include dual-band 802.11a and 802.11b chip sets, and, separately, Intel is working on Project Rainbow, a national 802.11-based wireless network.

Inside, however, one major initiative is style. Banias is clearly designed so manufacturers have more freedom. The chips are more tightly integrated, there are fewer connectors and the chip is smaller than most. With Transmeta and Banias, were going to see huge design shifts in the coming years, making all our current notebooks look like beasts.

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